“They’re either lying or mentally ill” – Templeton redux

I have no comment to make on Martin Rees’ much criticised acceptance of the Templeton Prize. The concept of the award may be founded on bullshit, but I certainly wouldn’t sniff at a million quid, and do not begrudge the Astronomer Royal his booty, tainted though it be.

What interests me is the reaction from defenders of the Templeton Prize to Rees’ critics. Take, for example, a letter in today’s Guardian from one Scott McKenna, who a little desk research reveals to be a Christian minister of the Presbyterian variety based in Edinburgh. McKenna is a cultured and articulate cleric, going by the clearly self-penned third person puff posted on the Mayfield Church website, but he is a godbotherer nonetheless.

The good reverend writes…

“If I want to know what it is to be a human being, I would ask a novelist, not a biologist. We are more than the tools of science can measure: science tells us that water is H2O but does not tell us it is wet. Science only looks outwards, not inwards. At its best, religion is rational, experiential and philosophically and theologically self-critical. It relies heavily on metaphor and paradox and is no less rigorous than science.”

Reverend McKenna here employs his cultural learning to hide category errors, scientific illiteracy and generally woolly thinking. He wouldn’t be the first, either.

Personally, if I wanted to know what it is to be a human being, I would first ask a biologist, an anthropologist and possibly a few other scientists. Then I would approach a philosopher, a poet, a musician, a visual artist,… and a novelist. With contributions from all these individuals I might be better equipped to answer the original question. As for input from a theologian, Rowan Williams could be enlightening, but that would be down to the Archbeard of All England’s innate wisdom, and have little or nothing to do with his academic training in godbothery, rigorous or no.

Tim Minchin expresses it better than I could ever hope to…

Hat tip for Minchin video: Paul Evans